Gerry Was a Hearse Car Driver

September 23, 2015 — It was a Friday night. Mid-September. We didn’t have any plans, so we decided to head to Target to pick up some necessities. Ostensibly. Really, we were going to see if the department store had rolled out its wonderland of a Halloween section yet. But we weren’t prepared to run into Halloween in its parking lot.

I knew vaguely that every Friday night at our Target there’s a local car show in the parking lot. It’s pretty casual, anybody with an antique or otherwise interesting vehicle pulls up into the far end of the lot, grabs a space, pops their hood, and just hangs out.

And then I remembered that a friend had told me about a horror-themed ride she’d seen there about a week previously.

It didn’t take us long to find it, parked there on the outskirts of the show. Like it didn’t quite belong. Or maybe everybody else was keeping a safe distance from it. Perhaps both. After all, this car would be the last ride of every single grease monkey and gawker on that asphalt.

It was a hearse.

I know a few Hearse Heads. I feel the pull myself. I love the idea of hearses. I mean, we designed an entire vehicle for the sole purpose of carrying the dead. That’s style points. What has always stopped me from acting on it is my general apathy toward cars of any sort. I know, I know, I’m a road trip guy. I love the freedom of owning a car. But I hate keeping it running and washing it and throwing away all the McDonald’s bags in the backseat and caring about every ding in its hood. I want to trash my cars, not love them. My humble, little decade-old Honda Civic has been rear-ended three times in the past two years, and each time I didn’t even ask for driver’s insurance, just mumbled something about scars giving character, and told them to get back into traffic.

But all that last paragraph is to say I don’t know anything about cars, and in this particular case I had no idea what the year or make or model of this particular death-mobile we were looking at was. I googled some of the words in chrome on the body and came up with a Cadillac Fleetwood. A reader more knowledgeable about hearses will have to educate me on the rest.

What I saw, was a gray hearse with purple flames and a chrome skull ornament on its hood, and license plates that read “D-O-A.” Again, style points.

Now, had this been just your normal hearse in a normal Target parking lot, you wouldn’t be reading this post right now. Actually, knowing my hit count, you probably aren’t reading it right now anyway. But had that been the case, I at most would have thrown something on Instagram or Twitter, but that’s all.

But, you see, this hearse was completely Halloween’d out.

A two-foot-tall Universal Studios Wolfman toy was in the driver’s seat. His passenger was an adult-sized Chucky shoving a knife into a decapitated mannequin head. Ghouls peered out of the side windows. Skulls adorned the dashboard. In the back, which was open and corpse-empty, perched the head of Gary Oldman’s old man Dracula, generized and chubbified. Behind the hearse, on a gurney, was a thin, homemade coffin full of bones and human face-skin and Spanish moss and snakes. A seven foot tall statue that looked like a cross between a vampire, an evil leprechaun, and a goblin stood honor guard at the back. Dog skeletons obediently surrounded his ankles.

I walked right up to it with my family. “Can I take a few pictures?” I asked. This was a braver question than you realize. The person to whom I directed the question, and the indisputable owner of the coffin carrier, had massive stainless steel rings on every finger, a flowing white shirt, black-lacquered nails, a walking stick, and little regard for differentiating between sideburns and moustaches. But of all those features, it was the set of fangs in his mouth that were the most distinguishing.

“Sure. There’s candy in the back,” he said between his pointy teeth, motioning with his cane to a pair of plastic drums on either side of generic Gary Oldman, one full of Dum-Dums and the other of Halloween-packaged pretzels. And that, folks, is the time I failed to teach my children the lesson of not taking candy from strangers in a parking lot.

Turns out the guy's name his Gerry. But I didn’t learn too much more about him. He was really friendly, but not too talkative, just like I like my vampire hearse drivers.

He did tell me that he has a few friends that have hearses as well, and sometimes thy take them out joyriding in an impromptu funeral procession. Although I’ve never seen the deranged convoy, it makes me happy to know that it’s happening somewhere nearby while I’m sitting warm and drunk in front of my television.

And then he told me, “I didn’t want to scare the kids, but check this out.” His hand moved to a hidden switch on the coffin and out popped through the Spanish moss a hissing snake with glowing eyes. I like that way of communicating so much better than “What do you do for a living?” or “Where are you from?”

We didn’t go too deep, me and Gerry. Just long enough for me to fully document that moment of existence and to get a couple Dum-Dums for my kids. But man, did I dig that moment.

Every so often, in these days of a thoroughly mainstream Halloween that’s a bit too slick sometimes (and not with blood), I often miss the pure weirdness of the season. But, Gerry, he’s got that pure Halloween weirdness down. Not because he’s a man who owns a hearse. And not because he drapes Halloween all over it instead of waxing it like all the other car crazies. And not because he likes to show it off in a Target parking lot. Not even because he wears fangs. But all of that together. So, thanks, Gerry. I wish you many more awesome hearse rides before your final one.

And then my family and I went into Target and checked out normal and suddenly a-little-more-hollow Halloween, wherein I tried to talk myself into buying a werewolf rug and out of buying 15 packs of caramel apple Twizzlers. Because ain’t nothing wrong with mainstream Halloween, either. Not yet, anyway.